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Stewards of a rich artistic history, sixteenth century Flemish artists inherited a legacy that included the aggregate knowledge of their predecessor-greats, such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. Ironically, these sixteenth century artists became exceedingly more interested in producing Italianate art, which derived its inspiration from outside of Flanders, than in continuing established Flemish traditions. Indeed, Flemish artists such as Frans Floris traveled extensively to Italy in order to study the Italian models they so prize—namely, the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael. Not all artists, however, were as taken with said Italian models as was Floris, who in 1554 produces St. Michael Defeating the Rebel Angels (figure 1), a striking vision of the Italian influences that would begin to take hold of the Low Countries. While many Flemish artists do journey to Italy in search of the Greco-Roman ideals that fueled the Italian Renaissance, Pieter Bruegel devotes his time and energy there to the mastery of landscapes. Throughout his travels, he conducts a number of natural studies (figs. 2-4), an attempt to extract his art naer het leven or directly from nature (Orenstein, 15). The hurriedly drawn lines of the surviving River Landscape, suggest that Bruegel does not feel the need to elaborate on the subject; here, he seems to be more interested in reproducing contours and overall forms, as opposed to specific details like the ones that would be present in a painting or other form of final work. In the foreground, the impression of an embankment is built up by series of sketched parallel lines that vary in their angle, length, and even curvature, working together to create a unified mass. At the bottom right, what seems to be a wooden rail begins and ends abruptly, as if it were an abandoned project. Lines carve out an

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elevation that continues in a path that the small rail could have very well followed. If composing a quick sketch, perhaps short on time, Bruegel may have very well made the decision to deliberately exclude the details of the railing, in exchange for capturing a greater portion of the scene at large: specifically, the mammoth forms seen in the background. These mountains are underdeveloped in comparison to what other Flemish artists produce as final drafts (see figure 5); their contours are clearly discernible, but not much detail seems to describe them. Lines here have been sketched lightly and as a result, they blend in together. It must be noted, however, that these are drawings Bruegel creates for his own purposes; these are not final works that have been commissioned or even created with sale as a primary intent. These studies do, no doubt, lead to fabulous landscape paintings the likes of which can rival the great works of Joachim Patinir and so, in a sense, are priceless. In addition, these preliminary drawings served Bruegel in preparing to design prints for the workshop of Hieronymus Cock, the Quatre Vents (Gibson, 16). A discussion of his time there is integral to understanding Bruegel’s artistic choices and career in general. Relatively little is known about Bruegel prior to his 1555 employment; as such, it stands to reason that the partnership with the well-established Hieronymus Cock was instrumental in directing Bruegel’s young career. In the Quatre Vents, Bruegel initially designs landscape prints. It is during this time that he profits from his extensive Italian study. However, Bruegel today is most notably recognized for works he creates when, in anticipation of the demand for works in the “style of Bosch” (Orenstein, 45), Cock commissions a number of strikingly authentic emulations of the

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Master’s style. Bruegel creates works so believable that Cock has no hesitation stamping Bosch’s name on them before sale. One such design, Big Fish Eat Little Fish (figure 6), frequently referred to by some as “one of the most haunting of Bruegel's images,” (Heilbrunn) is rendered by Pieter van der Heyden (figure 7) in 1557. Based on one of a series of didactic Flemish proverbs, Big Fish Eat Little Fish communicates visually what its title states succinctly: those who are stronger, better equipped to compete, crush the weak in a dog-eat-dog world. The drawing has called upon Bruegel’s imagination to create devilish fish that walk on land as well as navigate the skies, and larger than life knives controlled by men half their size. In doing so, Bruegel quotes exceptionally from the works and tradition of Bosch, who challenged artists to create new, unique works of art with strong assertions that it was “characteristic of the most pitiable wits always to use what ha[d] been invented,” rather than innovating. Here, Bruegel has provided his unique interpretation of the proverb, synthesizing personal imagery with the language of Hieronymus Bosch. Much like in his study of the River Landscape, Bruegel seems to have emphasized contours in Big Fish Eat Little Fish; his figures are primarily described by thick dark, lines which Bruegel has first drawn lightly and then gone over so as to assert the beginnings and ends of such figures as the giant beached fish and the character gutting it. Both these figures are built up by a combination of spots and parallel, as well as crosshatched, lines. The massive body of water that seems to extend unlimitedly (just as the fish seem to multiply ad infinitum from within their predators) is given the illusion of ripple and depth by Bruegel’s use of parallel lines, much more popular in Italy than the crosshatching technique associated

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with Flanders. Unlike his earlier studies, here, Bruegel has provided not only the contours and general forms of his subjects, but also the means with which to interpret said drawing— specific lines that someone like van der Heyden greatly profits from. Van der Heyden’s execution of Bruegel’s drawing (see figure 7) reveals the dynamic relationship between the painter and this particular engraver. Van der Heyden was not particularly renowned for his ability to interpret drawings. That is, he was not an engraver interested in (or capable of) effectively injecting his own conception of what the final print should be like. While some of the other engravers associated with Bruegel create prints that are every bit theirs as they are the draughtsman’s, van der Heyden displays an unwavering fidelity to the artist’s conception. When compared to Bruegel’s drawing, van der Heyden’s engraving follows suit almost “line for line” (Orenstein, 210). Without a doubt, van der Heyden does not partake in contriving contrasts that are not originally employed by the artist—as is the case with the engraver Philip Galle. In Galle’s rendition of Bruegel’s The Alchemist (figure 8), there is a very high level of contrast, which subtracts in some ways from the naturalism present in the original drawing (not shown). Bruegel’s drawing employs a subtle drapery that envelops his figures realistically. Galle’s deep, inset scoring creates a sharp contrast that stiffens out Bruegel’s drapery, setting it back to the time of Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition (see figure 9). Perhaps it is because the engraver Philip Galle resides in Haarlem, where Bruegel cannot exercise the same oversight that is possible with the Antwerp-based van der Heyden, that these differences in translation occur. Orenstein makes one thing very clear: Bruegel becomes

Omil, Danly deeply involved in every possible part of the piecemeal creation of his prints at the commencement of his partnership with van der Heyden. Bruegel is understandably very explicit with his conception because unlike his nature studies, this is not a drawing for his purposes, which can be completely reconstructed mentally from his original impressions. Instead, it is a piece that will be interpreted by a craftsman with a completely different set of technical skills. Despite the truly diffuse nature of print-making, Bruegel knows well that his prints, once disseminated, will be linked much more closely to him than to the individual engraver and


arguably even the publisher, because he alone is responsible for the intellectual content of the design. There exist two separate audiences for Bruegel’s prints. The first, is made up of all the engravers who will inevitably come across his prints in search of the latest developments in “the handling of line and depiction of form.” This group would normally be associated much more intimately with the engraver. The degree to which that is true within the context of Pieter van dey Heyden is unclear because Bruegel was so involved in the process of engraving. The second group is comprised of humanist art-critics who can read into Bruegel’s nuanced play on words and images. As a result of the expectations of both these groups, Bruegel wants to have as great an impact on the final product as possible, to be certain that it does not reflect poorly upon him. Perhaps for this very reason, van der Heyden renders more engravings after Bruegel than any other individual (including Buregel himself); he is able to capture Bruegel’s intentions as precisely as Bruegel harnesses the style of Hieronymus Bosch. Christ’s Descent into Limbo (figure 9), a collaborative effort by van der Heyden and Bruegel most eloquently expresses Bosch’s style. This work bears several seals of quality: h.

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cock execu, capitalizing on Hieronymus Cock’s long since well-established position as a reputable publisher/businessman, as well as the phrase “Bruegel Inuent,” to signify that Bruegel, now salable enough to credit directly, has created the original drawing (not shown). Christ’s Descent into Limbo is incredibly crowded in composition. It recalls Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights in the sense that it brings together several dynamic scenes, creating one chaotic panorama. At the very center of the Descent, enters Christ, depicted with a train of singing angels at both sides. He seems to be shielded from the demonic forces at large by an impenetrable force field. He and his attendants are attacked by a serpentine creature, which spits vapors at Christ to no avail. To their comfort, there are many more figures for the demons of limbo to prey upon. All sorts of tortures seem to be taking place here. To the right, a man dangles lifelessly from a ladder, as though bait for the demons below him. Supported only by his arms, his spine is broken, producing his dramatic elasticity. Centrally, the sharp, wooden spines of a demonic carousel pierce a number of figures, depositing them into a pool of damned souls they cannot escape. Below Christ, a rat-like demon engages in severe masochism, slicing through his own flesh strongly enough that his arm penetrates the wound from the force. This place is clearly a limbo conceived to be far less neutral than one would expect. The left-most figure learns this lesson before the eyes of the viewer. He has sought a dark crevice in which to hide from the chaos, only to be pursued and found out. He has been taught that no matter how much or how far he runs, his just-desserts will never be far off.

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Truly, those who have been sentenced to live in limbo must remain there; only the souls released from hell are saved. They raise their arms in celebration of their freedom and of Christ, who has forced open the gates of hell with a force strong enough to rip them from their hinges. The print is appropriately captioned with a phrase that, when translated, reads: “lift up your heads, o ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in” (Peters). The coming of Christ, depicted with all the bruises of the crucifixion, has forced open the gates of hell, allowing those wrongly condemned, those who foretold his beneficence before his arrival to earth, to walk out of hell unscathed. Bruegel and van der Heyden construct these myriad scenes through the varied use of line. Just as in Big Fish Eat Little Fish, Bruegel has provided a specific set of instructions to be followed at the time of execution. He uses the language of the engraver in drafting Christ’s Descent into Limbo, strongly emphasizing contours so as to prescribe where one figure ends and another begins. Once this foundation has been laid down, Bruegel uses lines for a different purpose: to shade these figures—creating within their boundaries, innumerable detail in the Flemish tradition. One such key figure, which Bruegel must have taken great care to develop, is the giant hell-beast, whose mouth is the portal to torment. A close inspection of the area around the chimera’s eyes, reveals meticulous crosshatching. Inside its mouth, further crosshatching of lines creates a “tonal net” (Peters) that capture the darkness of the depths of hell. Unlike other engravers of the time, who took it upon themselves to actively interpret the

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artist’s drawings, van der Heyden would have been content to transfer directly from Bruegel’s design. Time and again, he remains faithful to the artist’s concept, diverging only slightly in minute details. Small stylistic differences between the artist and engraver are present in Christ’s Descent into Limbo, to be sure, but these small changes such as the conversion of the rat-like figure’s dull knife into a much more elegant dagger would only be apparent to a viewer who would have had both versions of the design (the drawing and final print). Even so, the critic would have had to conduct a very close study because there are no occurrences of major thematic changes. Whereas the aforementioned engraver, Galle, thins out Bruegels stouter figures in his engravings, apparently prompting the artist to adopt his change (Bruegel’s later works feature longer, thinner, figures) (Orenstein, 47), van der Heyden does not so much as experiment with form. It is ironic that the workings of the artist and the engraver both run parallel and counter to the philosophy of Hieronymus Bosch. On the one hand, Bruegel has consistently displayed that he “‘follow[s] nature, not other artists’” (Orenstein, 13), through his choices while in Italy and his adaptation, not mere imitation, of the style of Bosch. On the other hand, Pieter van der Heyden, whose technical skill is irrefutable, nonetheless serves only as a conduit between Pieter Bruegel’s drawings and the printing press. That is not to say that the engraver is fungible in any way. Quite counter-intuitively, it is van der Heyden’s ability to translate the works of Bruegel literally that makes him most valuable. It is true today that a van der Heyden Bruegel is the utmost quality Breugel. When Bruegel takes up the task of creating his own print, essentially becoming a peintres-

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graveur, he produces The Rabbit Hunt (figure 11), an etching that, despite Bruegel’s established ability to manipulate line, is somewhat underwhelming. Bruegel introduces the viewer to an expansive landscape, but leaves a large compartment of the background seemingly empty. The Rabbit Hunt is easy to mistake for an earlier print. Its background is comparatively underdeveloped, leaving only the foreground saturated with activity. In addition, unlike the works of Robert Nanteuil (not shown), The Rabbit Hunt lacks a photorealistic quality, suggesting that the innovations necessary (i.e. handling of swelling lines) to produce the intense realism and tonal range present in the prints of Nanteuil might as well be eons apart. This is perhaps because artists like Bruegel lacked the particular technical skill to execute their drawings effectively. It is sound to conjecture then that, just as engravers needed artists to continually draft new art to be printed, artists needed professional print-makers to translate their art accurately to the printing press. A print like Christ’s Descent into Limbo survives today because there existed a mutualism between artists and what were then considered craftsmen. This dynamic set up is what empowers 16th century Antwerp, allowing her to become an international printmaking center. It is this commercial wealth, in turn, that allows Pieter Bruegel to work in Antwerp at the Quatre Vents, creating landscapes, exploring the style of Hieronymous Bosch and keeping it every bit as alive as Bruegel’s prints and paintings do his own style, all while making a name from himself that is synonymous with his time and unforgotten throughout the ages.

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Omil, Danly 11   Figure 1: Frans Floris. St. Michael Defeating the Rebel Angels. 1554.

Figure 2: Pieter Bruegel the Elder. River Landscape. 1552. Pen and ink on blue paper.

Omil, Danly 12   Figure 3: Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Alpine Landscape. 1555. Pen, brown and grey ink.

Figure 4: Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Alpine View. c. 1553. Pen and ink.

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Figure 5: Joachim Patinir. The Baptism of Christ. 1515. Oil on wood.

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Figure 6: Pieter Bruegel. Big Fish Eat Little Fish. 1556. Pen and brush with grey and black ink.

Figure 7: Pieter van der Heyden (after Bruegel). Big Fish Eat Little Fish. 1556. Engraving.

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Figure 8: Philip Galle (after Bruegel). The Alchemist. 1558. Engraving.

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Figure 9: Rogier van der Weyden. Deposition (with detail of drapery) . 1435. Oil on oak panel.

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Figure 10: Pieter van der Heyden (after Bruegel). Christ’s Descent into Limbo. 1561. Engraving.

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Figure 11: Pieter Bruegel. The Rabbit Hunt. 1560. Etching.

Omil, Danly 19   Works Cited Gibson, Walter. Bruegel. 1985.

“Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 12/05/2009. Web. 8 Dec 2009. <>.

Orenstein, Nadine. Pieter Bruegel: Drawings and Prints.

Peters, Emily. The Brilliant Line: Following the Early Modern Engraver, 1480-1650.

Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. New York, 1985.